Originally from Birmingham, England, Ava has been living in Shenzhen on South China's tropical South East coast since 2013.
Shenzhen: All About Books!
On weekends, evenings, and all day during holidays, you can find children and adults sitting comfortably on carpeted and, in some cases, wooden floors in any of Shenzhen's fabulous bookshops. It's plain to see that they're enjoying the simple pleasure of reading.
Academic texts along with professional works are seen as must-reads in order to get ahead in study and career, but the bookshops serve a different purpose and are mainly used for relaxation and exploration.
Often in the large public spaces just outside or near the bookshops, local and national authors hold meet and greet events inspiring old and new fans with stories, autobiographies, and insider knowledge of the publishing industry.
By the way, this article isn't an exhaustive list. Shenzhen is a huge city and it would take me several months to catalog all or even close to the majority of the bookshops and libraries. With that in mind, I've chosen to highlight my regular haunts.
Books and More at Book City
The sign above, 'Book,' can be seen in many of Shenzhen's business and shopping districts.
This one is in downtown Futian. It signals a space covering several thousand square feet devoted to books and reading. You can also find books in English, although the majority are in Chinese.
The books cover a huge variety of topics in both fiction and non-fiction. If you love books, as I do, this could become one of your favorite places to be on any day of the week as, just like most Chinese retailers, the bookshops are open from Sunday to Saturday.
A Great Place for English Books
EON Books was a fantastic find!
I estimate that 70% of their stock is imported English books, probably more if you include the significant and fantastic children's section.
The knowledgeable staff can guide you through books about Asian and western history, cookbooks, design, health, fiction, autobiography, business, English language exam textbooks, Chinese language helpers, and more. Whatever you want is here, including copies of Reader's Digest, Singapore edition (which is full of Australian stories, somebody tell me why?).
I've also met new friends here, frequently bumping into other foreigners happy to find English books.
As they're imports, the price can be a little high, especially for hard copies, but if you buy a cup of tea, grab a window seat and make yourself comfortable, you can read for hours with no interruptions.
Read More from WanderWisdom
The quietest times are weekdays. Weekends are pretty full and you'll be tripping over children and their parents on the floor, lapping up the tales in-between the covers of the children's writing.
Books With Tea
Enjoy the view at EON Books from the 2nd floor window.
Open your chosen book and wait for the customer assistant to magically appear with a list of delectable teas. If you decline (although why would you, they're delicious and not at all expensive), you'll be gently told that seats are for readers and tea drinkers.
I couldn't help it, I burst out laughing when I saw this sign in the bookstore.
Then I swiftly apologised for causing my friend to lose face as people stared. Losing face is a big no-no in China.
But come on, I mean, 'Florilegium,' really? I'm pretty sure this is one of those cases where the translator machine popped out any old nonsense, happens all the time.
I hope they don't change it, although I think they will at some point. Certainly put a smile on my face, even if I did 'smile' a bit too loudly.
Yes, it does exactly as it says on the lid and stays open 24 hours a day, every day.
The counter which runs along the huge stretch of floor-to-ceiling windows is laptop central, while the cafe serves hot drinks and cold juices along with green tea flavored cheesecake and other delights.
There's also a chill-out area when you need to have a break from sitting up straight and just want to semi-recline on a very comfortable sofa.
I have to admit that I don't spend too much time here as the English book selection is confined to classics from Shakespeare and Dickens while I prefer more contemporary writers.
It's very popular with young people, including undergrads and it has a great atmosphere.
In the picture below, the steps lead down to a public exhibition space which is used for hosting visiting speakers, artwork and musicians.
This area is in the heart of Book City, Shenzhen.
The way the light reflects on the sign makes it seem almost angelic!
Sisyphe books (please don't ask me how to pronounce it, I haven't got a clue but I believe it's named after mythical Greek King Sisyphus who spent a lot of time sitting on a rock contemplating stuff), is a new chain in Shenzhen. I'm not sure if they're in other Chinese cities, could be.
They stock mountains of books covering all areas with only a small, well, tiny really, percentage in English, but that's okay because the beautiful notebooks, artwork and objets d'art will draw you in and keep you there, as will the cafe.
Once you've sunk into the oversized and wonderfully overstuffed sofas you won't want to get up for a while, except maybe to grab your coffee and a bite of your cake and contemplate which section of the store to look at next.
ld Heaven Books
Situated in the trendy, arty area of OCT Loft, Old Heaven Books is a favourite among expats.
It's, in a word....Unique, with a capital U and its owners have worked hard to make it so.
It fuses the really old with the not-so-old and is a classically beautiful space contained within a leafy, tropically green area. Of course, it has a cafe supplying cheesecake and coffee. It also has a covered outdoor area where you can read in sunlight or even rain. It has squashy settees set amidst the books and white-washed walls lined with art posters of super-cool writers and musicians. It has shelves housing artefacts from a gentler time such as radios, cassette tapes (remember those?), LPs and record players.
Most of all it has an almost etheral atmosphere, that makes you talk in hushed tones as soon as you enter and which compels you to linger a while.
Old Heaven; a perfect name for this amazing place.
Back to Shenzhen's Amazing Central LIbrary
I had to finish this photo essay with another shot of Shenzhen's stunning central library. I don't know who the architect is, but he/she or they did an outstanding job. And yes, it really is as big as it looks.
Situated in the heart of Book City it spans six floors and is linked by a rooftop walkway to Shenzhen concert hall, home to international and national artists and a Steinway piano shop. Real Steinways, up close and personal!
The library has a multitude of study areas, chill-out zones, PCs and a large display area on the first floor. It can get pretty busy at the weekend and evenings, especially around school exam time.
I love the fact that you can claim and keep your seat simply by leaving your bag on it whilst you go for lunch which is great for students who spend all day in the library. They assure me that as long as you take your money and your phone with you, no one will touch your stuff!
From time to time when the internet doesn't satisfy my craving for the feel of newsprint I'll spend a few hours on the fifth floor reading Chinese papers in English and some UK newspapers, the fact that they're a week old, notwithstanding.
If you're ever in Shenzhen, South China, step away from the millions of shops with their compelling bargains and browse a bookshop or two or several. You won't regret it.
- Where is it exactly?
It's located in Futian which is kind of Central Shenzhen. As an elongated city, it can be hard to pinpoint its middle accurately. So, the Library is in the middle of Shenzhen in the CBD of Futian (CBD means Central Business District, if you're wondering what the heck that is).
- And how big did you say it was?
Pretty huge. At 49,589 square feet, it easily claims the prize for the largest library in town.
- Any more big numbers to go with that?
Sure. It has 2,500 seats, more than 2 million books (I counted! Just kidding) and 1 million online reading materials.
- Anything else we should know?
Yep. The library does not stand alone. It's linked by a roof terrace walkway thingy to Shenzhen Concert Hall and as I mentioned earlier it's part of Shenzhen Book City. By the way, Shenzhen Concert Hall has its own Steinway shop. Real Steinways up close and oh so personal! A mini Starbucks and a full-sized restaurant.